A few weeks ago I was staying in Riccione and had the chance to take a day exploring historic Rimini and Ravenna. Both of these cities played an important role in the life of Dante, which is exactly why I wanted to visit.
Rimini, though more famously known as one of the best beach vacation spots actually has a fascinating historic center, which houses the Malatesta Temple, the official cathedral of the Malatesta family. The same Malatesta family included in Dante’s Inferno, Paolo Malatesta and his brothers wife Francesca da Polenta who found themselves committing adultery were both murdered by Giovanni Malatesta . The Malatesta family held power over Rimini for hundreds of years, beginning in 1295. They were a family of Guelphs and took power when their enemies the Ghibelline’s were run out of Rimini.
The Temple however was built in 1458 by architect Leon Battista Alberti, and Matteo di Andrea de’ Pasti. The intent was for this to be a Mausoleam for Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and his lover Isotta degli Atti. The temple was to have a dome based off the Pantheon and it would have been the largest in all of Italy, however, it was never built, as the family was running out of money. The building we see today is how it was left in 1466.
I had breakfast just around the corner (with a delicious cornetto based off chocolate rice krispies!) with a beautiful view of the Temple, on my right I could see straight down the street to the main historic square. It was around 9 and the city was busy, yet quite. Everyone rode bikes, in fact there was a three sided bike stand with bikes piled on each other, each bike with a basket that often contained if not a meal, a small child riding around with their family.
From Rimini I took the train to Ravenna, about a two hour ride. Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman empire from 402 to 476, the entire city essentially is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Best known for it’s amazing Byzantine and Medieval mosaics, it also happens to have Dante’s tomb, where his actual remains rest (as opposed to his tomb in Florence), and be an amazing cultural center. I mainly visited due to the fact I had heard amazing things about the churches and mosaics but then when I found out Dante was laid to rest there, I couldn’t miss it.
Thankfully I was able to see his tomb, just before they closed it for cleaning. I spent some time in the courtyard just taking it all in. Suddenly this experience made me realize how real Dante was, how real all his characters and his words were. We study him so often as an example of literature or of politics but we think of all the characters as figments of a long distant history. Being in the spot he wrote, in and about, and being near to his last resting place suddenly the reality sinks in.
I was very happy to see all the mosaics and early churches, the most beautiful of which was San Vitale, but I was most happy to see the small tomb.